Offense bolstered by dynamic backfield
The Trojans’ deadly passing attack has been lauded all season, thanks to the versatility of junior wide receiver Jordan Addison and the dynamic play of sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams, whose poise and accuracy has led the Trojans to a 3-0 record with an offense averaging over 50 points per game.
However, a truly great offense has a reliable run game that forces the defense to pack the box, opening up more downfield space for the likes of Addison, sophomore wide receiver Mario Williams and other Trojan wideouts to get open and advance the ball downfield.
In graduate student Travis Dye and senior Austin Jones, USC has found their rushing identity and thrived under these explosive running backs.
In Saturday’s win over Fresno State, the duo each rushed for over 100 yards and got involved in the Trojan passing attack. Riley employed his tenured running backs evenly, with Jones carrying the ball 12 times to Dye’s 11 rushes. The backs posted eerily similar averages: 9.3 yards per carry for Jones and 9.2 for Dye. To further their mirrored performances, both Jones and Dye scored touchdowns on Saturday.
Head coach Lincoln Riley, who is known for his influence on the quarterback position, praised his offense for their effectiveness on the ground and stressed the importance of having a solid rushing attack.
“I thought our run game was really pretty good most of the night,” Riley said. “I thought the [offensive] line was really good in the run game. [Jones and Dye] started seeing it pretty well… You have to run the ball to win and win consistently and win in different ways.”
One might think that having two backs as talented as Jones and Dye could lead to tension between the two athletes as they compete for reps. However, Jones described his relationship with Dye as close and complementary.
“[Dye and I] have a great chemistry. That’s one of my guys, I love Travis,” Jones said. “We feed off each other… you can just see within the game.”
Dye gave a similar answer, saying that when Jones performs well it motivates him to do the same.
“He’s a great back… it doesn’t mean that we have to be competitors,” Dye said. “If he does good, it just makes me want to… do better too. I see it as a great relationship.”
Jones, who transferred from Stanford University last spring, is averaging 3.2 more yards per carry than his freshman season in Palo Alto. With 3 touchdowns in the first 3 games of the season, Jones is on track to break his personal best of 9 touchdowns, which he accomplished in his sophomore year. Jones attributes his strong start with the Trojans to his versatile playing style.
“I think I fit in the offense pretty well,” Jones said. “Coach Lincoln… he puts the best person in the best position to make plays, and I feel like I’ve shown that I can catch the ball, run between the tackles and, when I need to, pass protect as well, so I just feel like every single game I get to develop my skills and just keep working.”
Jones’ commitment to the USC offense was perhaps most evident when, on a 9-yard run to the end zone, a Fresno State defender ripped his helmet off. While the play was immediately ruled over, Jones kept moving forward through the Bulldog defense into the end zone.
“I knew it was going to be a flag, and I know they’re going to stop me there, I was sick, but I was like, ‘I’m going to score just in case,’” Jones said. “I saw the zone man, I’m gonna get in the zone regardless, helmet or no helmet.”
In perhaps an effort to reward Jones for his ferocity, Riley called a draw play on the following play and, once again, Jones found his way into the end zone.
Jones wasn’t the only Trojan running back to show his toughness on Saturday. On the drive following Jones’ score, Dye scored on a 25-yard run, breaking not one, not two, but five tackles on his way to the end zone. The Oregon transfer completed his highlight play with a spin move as he powered his way for six points.
“I had some blockers in front of me and I just kept my legs moving… and I ended up in the end zone,” Dye said.
Dye, who led the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards last season, also praised his offensive line, citing them as a big reason behind his and Jones’ success.
“They are wonderful. All glory to them. All those yards, those were them,” the Oregon transfer said. “They took that running game, and they put it on their back and they allowed us to run through those holes.”